WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency is asking for several hundred million euros at the upcoming Cabinet meeting for new satellite navigation technologies from low Earth orbit to the Moon.
In a Nov. 9 briefing, ESA officials said they are proposing about 500 million euros ($518 million) over the next three years for advanced technology development projects in addition to the European Union-led work to support the Galileo system that will enhance existing services for ground users and extend them to support lunar exploration.
“This rapidly growing market has raised user expectations across the board,” said Javier Benedicto, ESA’s director of navigation, demanding improvements in durability and accuracy. “At the next ministerial council in November, ESA will work to strengthen future satellite navigation capabilities.”
One initiative, called FutureNAV, will support the development of two missions to advance satellite navigation technologies. One, GENESIS, will combine four different measurement techniques on a single satellite to improve the international ground reference frame used for both navigation and earth science applications.
The other, LEO-PNT, will test a possible future satellite navigation constellation in low Earth orbit through a demonstration involving 6 to 12 small seats. Operating from LEO, Benedicto said, would allow for stronger signals and greater resistance to jamming, possibly using other frequency bands. “By bringing satellite navigation closer to Earth, LEO-PNT has the potential to make satellites cheaper and more efficient and more cost-effective to launch.”
The goal of LEO-PNT, ESA officials said in the briefing, is a “fast track” program that will launch smallsats in 2026 to demonstrate the potential capabilities of such a constellation. This would support future planning for the development of a LEO navigation constellation, including whether to use autonomous satellites or a hosted payload, possibly as part of a broadband constellation.
“We see in the future a growth, an evolution, in the architecture of satellite navigation systems,” he said, with current constellations such as Galileo in medium Earth orbit serving as a “backbone” supplemented by LEO systems. “The purpose of the orbit demonstration, the program we have in mind, is to test it in orbit and show ourselves the added value of these new technologies before we make a programmatic decision about the future evolution of this overall architecture.”
A third mission is Moonlight, a joint effort of ESA’s Exploration, Telecommunications and Navigation Directorates. Moonlight will develop communication and navigation services on and around the Moon to support ESA and partner missions there, starting with a demonstration mission called Lunar Pathfinder being developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) for launch in 2025.
ESA is completing the first phase of Moonlight, where it awarded study contracts in 2021 to two consortia, one led by SSTL and the other by Telespazio. If funded in the cabinet, ESA is ready soon after to issue a request for proposals for a second phase to begin development of Moonlight, with the goal of being selected in April 2023.
Benedicto said ESA will request 100 to 150 million euros for Moonlight at the cabinet meeting, which will be held on November 22-23 in Paris. “It is a mission that is very scalable and we will adjust the scope of the mission depending on the budget provided by our member states.”
He said ESA is asking for €80 million for GENESIS and €100 million for LEO-PNT, as well as €120 million for the Navigation Innovation and Support Program, or NAVISP, to support work on technologies and services enabled by satellite navigation. such as autonomous driving.
These efforts are complementary, Benedicto said, to the European Commission-funded project on the Galileo satellite navigation system. “We have an agreement where we have a clear division of roles and responsibilities,” he said, with ESA responsible for developing Galileo satellites and the EGNOS augmentation service, which is then managed by the European Union’s Space Program Agency ( EUSPA).
That includes ESA’s work building first- and second-generation Galileo satellites, although launches of those satellites have been put on hold by the loss of the Soyuz vehicle after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and delays in the introduction of Ariane 6. He said that there is no urgent need to launch additional satellites given the state of the current constellation, although it would be useful to add to the constellation’s spares in orbit.
“We are currently discussing with the European Union the possibility of identifying additional launch services, if needed, for the time frame of late 2023, early 2024, in case additional satellites need to be launched urgently. to guarantee the continuity of the constellation,” Benedicto said. He later said it involved “intense discussions” with launch companies other than Arianespace, although he did not disclose specific providers.
In the long term, he said, ESA will use Ariane 6, whose first launch is currently scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2023. “Ariane 6 remains our driving force. It is our basis for the development of the Galileo constellation in the future.”